What is tradition?

One of my favorite blogs is Life as Mom and recently I saw that she was looking at traditional foods from different countries, which got me thinking, what is traditional South African food?

We are a country made up of people from many different cultures and backgrounds, and inevitably, different tastes. One person might feel that pap and wors is the true backbone of South African cuisine while someone else might argue that it is bobotie or 'bunny chow'.

But what does 'traditional food' really mean? Is it the food that everyone in the country eats most regularly or is it the food the country is best known for?

Let us take America; I have quite a few American friends and I know from their food blogs that they enjoy a wide variety of different cuisines, yet when we think of American food the first thing that comes to mind is burgers. When ever we have been invited to or even hosted an 'American' evening everyone expects that there will be burgers on the menu, even though logically we know that not all Americans eat burgers all the time.

The same goes for other countries, mention England and we thinks of tea with freshly fried fish and chips, or Scotland with their haggis and deep fried mars bars and of cause everyone knows the Italians only eat pasta and pizza.

But what about us here at the tip of the African Continent? What do people really know about our food? I'm sure some will think we all eat mopani worms (never tried it thank you) or crickets (again, no thank you) and although I am sure there are perhaps some people who would enjoy such things they are not at all commonly available ingredients.  I for one would not even know how to get my hands on one mopani worm let alone enough to feed a family of four, besides we prefer pasta or a good currie.

There is one type of 'food' though that is enjoyed by most people in our Rainbow Nation, although it is not really a food but more an occasion. This would be the well known South African braai, and no this is not the same as a barbecue or a grill, it is an event and as South African as blue skies, biltong and Table Mountain.

National Braai day is celebrated on the 24th of September every year as part of our Heritage Day celebrations, with Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu as its official patron. South Africans from all walks of life, all cultures, ethnic groups and social standing all love a really good braai and there is always a story of how someone had a braai in the rain, snow or storm somewhere in the world whether on top of a mountain, deep in bush or the middle of a desert. It is the glue that holds our nation together, the one thing we can all agree on and the one topic of conversation that always brings a big smile to a South African's face, no matter where in the world they now happen to live.

We have a doctor friend who always tells of how a small group of South African doctors had a braai on the roof of a UK hospital they were working in at the time in the middle of a bitterly cold English winter while it was snowing. They bought the little portable braai from a local shop keeper who thought they were crazy asking for it and just kept telling them 'but it's winter' before eventually giving in and letting them have it.

We even have our own Braai Boy, who after a dare from friends in 2009, to braai every day for a year, has now become so well known that he is still at it, not only braaing for his own family but also being involved in braai events all over the country and even the world.

What makes a braai different from a barbecue or a grill?

 A proper braai starts with the fire, although gas has gained in popularity and I personally prefer the speed and cleanliness of gas, for it to be a true braai it has to be a wood or charcoal fire. Half the fun is in watching the men trying to get it going and then sitting around and visiting with your friends while you wait for the fire to reach the right temperature.

The next part would be your meat and other bits that you intend to cook on the fire. This can vary greatly from person to person, although most South Africans would think it absolute sacrilege to cook burgers or hot dogs on a braai, it has to be some sort of sausage and at least one or two types of meat, which can be marinated or coated with a spice rub. Other popular things you might find cooking on the fire would be corn on the cob, braai bread, mushrooms, potatoes or oepsies (bacon or other cured meat on a stick, marinated in a sweet sticky sauce and then cooked on the fire) to name but a few.

Side dishes are just as important at these gatherings and there are as many variations as there are people. If its a payday braai you might be served a selection of salads, dips and snacks with your meat where as the last braai before the end of the month might see you only getting a garlic roll or pap - either way, both braais will be equally enjoyable as the most important thing to remember about a braai is that its not just about the food, its about family and friends sitting around the fire sharing a laugh and making memory that can last a life time.

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